Game of the Day- UNCG vs. Samford
Time: 6:00 PM
Previously: The teams split the season series, each winning on their home floor. In the first match-up on January 22, Samford won 89-78 for their first SoCon win. UNCG turned the ball over sixteen times, and the Bulldogs shot 52.5% from the floor in coming up with the win. They also knocked down 21 of 21 from the free throw line. Darius Jones-Gibson scored 20 with five rebounds and five assists. On February 26, UNCG won 81-67. RJ White scored 24 points and collected 12 rebounds. UNCG turned the ball over just nine times and held Samford to 43.8% shooting. They also won the battle of the boards, 37-30.
Match-up: The biggest difference in the two match-ups was the Spartans ability to protect the ball and not turn it over. As the season progressed, that was something the Spartans did get better at, along with defending and not fouling quite as frequently. Samford, who made just 19 of 31 from the free throw line last Thursday, has to shoot free throws well and force some turnovers with their pressure. Tevon Saddler and Diante Baldwin need to protect the ball and make some offensive plays. RJ White, Kayel Locke and Marvin Smith are playing very well inside. The Bulldogs Christen Cunningham, who won the Scanning the SoCon Freshman of the Year, may feel like he has something to prove after not winning the official Freshman of the Year award. Cunningham can be quite good. Last weekend, he averaged 20.5 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in the two games, so he is playing good basketball. Darius Jones-Gibson and Tyler Hood are the Bulldogs two leading scorers.
Prediction: This is a game deserving of being played on Saturday. To me, these two teams have played well enough lately to be playing for a spot in the semifinals. Unfortunately for these teams, they did not earn that right, and so it makes for a very compelling first game of the tournament. The winner gets to play Wofford on Saturday. The Spartans RJ White is playing so well right now, it is hard to imagine that the Bulldogs have the power to slow him down. The Bulldogs pressure defense has to force turnovers for them to have a chance. The key for the Spartans is what Baldwin and Saddler do protecting the ball. If the Spartans turn it over fifteen times, the Bulldogs win. If they turn it over less than ten, the Spartans win. If it is somewhere in-between, the game will be a toss up. Spartans 79, Bulldogs 74.
The Citadel vs. Furman
Time: 8:30 PM
Previously: Furman and The Citadel split the season series, each winning on the other's home court. On January 17, following the Bulldogs stirring win over Wofford, Furman walked into Charleston and won 74-62. Stephen Croone scored just 11, but Devin Sibley poured in 25. The Paladins crushed the Bulldogs on the glass, collecting 46.7% of their offensive rebounds, which is a huge number. Both teams just turned it over six times, and Furman shot over 50%. On February 19, the Citadel got their revenge, winning 62-56 in overtime. Croone scored 23 points. The Bulldogs did a much better job on the defensive glass. Furman also shot just 37.7% from the floor that night, something that the Bulldogs do not do frequently. Ashton Moore scored 20, with seven rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Match-up: The Bulldogs defense ranks as one of the very worst in the entire country. They simply have been unable to stop teams from shooting the ball effectively against them. Yes, they held Furman to 37.7% the last time they played, but that almost has never happened. The Bulldogs slow paced offense helps hide some of the defensive inefficiencies. The Bulldogs will need Moore to have a huge game. He is capable of that. He averaged 18.3 on the season. Furman will need some players to step up. Croone was injured last week and John Davis III played brilliantly in his absence. With Croone back, and Davis III playing great basketball, this team can be dangerous. Sibley, the SoCon Freshman of the Year, needs to get going as well. The Paladins rebound reasonably well behind Kris Acox. This team also gets to the free throw line better than any other team in the league, mainly because of Croone's ability to attack the rim.
Prediction: It really comes down to this- the Paladins shot poorly against The Citadel. If they shoot the ball at about 50% like so many Bulldog opponents did all year, the Paladins will win this game. The Bulldogs will not be able to keep up. Furman is the bottom seed in the tournament, but they may be the slight favorite in this game, believe it or not. Croone has a big game and guides the young Paladins to a win that will propel them into a quarterfinal match-up with Chattanooga. Paladins 64, Bulldogs 57.